JCSAT-14 mission set for Thursday morning flight on SpaceX Falcon 9
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is getting ready to conduct its second commercial satellite launch of the year with the flight of the JCSAT-14 telecommunications satellite currently slated to take place in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 5.
The Hawthorne, California-based company has some two hours, beginning at 1:21 a.m. EDT (05:21 GMT), to get the Full Thrust Falcon 9 rocket off the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) and into the early-morning Florida skies.
According to a report appearing on NASASpaceFlight.com, SpaceX successfully completed the static test fire that always heralds a launch of the Falcon 9 on Sunday, May 1. The static test fire not only demonstrates that the rocket is ready to support the mission, it also provides SpaceX’s Launch and Landing Control outside of the gates of Cape Canaveral with the ability to rehearse the launch—as well as to find and handle problems that present themselves—before the mission gets underway.
Weather conditions at the Cape for the Thursday launch attempt, at present, provide an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions for flight. The primary concerns in terms of Florida’s turbulent atmosphere are winds at the time of lift off and possibly violating the thick cloud layer rules for launch.
A statement issued by the 45th Space Wing has downplayed the likelihood that attempts to land the JCSAT-14 Falcon 9’s first stage on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (East Coast operations currently employ the Of Course I Still Love You) are expected to be unsuccessful, with the 45th issuing the following statement:
Following stage separation, the first stage of Falcon 9 will attempt an experimental landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship. Given this mission’s GTO destination, the first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely.
SpaceX’s CEO and founder, Elon Musk, has provided frank posts on Twitter where he has stated the likelihood of whether-or-not a landing will be a success.
Thursday’s scheduled launch will mark the culmination of almost four years’ worth of effort.
In June 2012, Space Systems / Loral announced that it had been awarded the contract to produce the JCSAT-14 communications satellite for Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT. This was followed about two years later with the announcement that SpaceX had won the contract to provide the launch services for the satellite.
“SSL is a world leader in satellite manufacturing, and a valuable partner in the expansion of our fleet,” said Shinji Takada, Representative Director, President and CEO of SKY Perfect JSAT via a statement on the company’s website. “Our corporate goal is to protect safety and peace of mind while contributing to the formation of a vibrant society. We look forward to the launch of JCSAT-14, which helps to contribute to this overarching goal.”
Once it has been placed in its geostationary orbit, it will reside at 154 degrees east longitude and is being fielded to replace JCSAT-2A (JCSat 8). According to a post on Gunter’s Space Page, the JCSAT-14 satellite will help to provide for growing demands for telecommunications services in the Asia Pacific region.
JCSAT-14 comes equipped with 26 C-band transponders and 18 Ku-band transponders. It will use these to provide telecommunications services across Asia, Oceania, the Pacific Islands, and Russia. Broadcast and data networks will rely on the services provided by the C-band transponders, with the satellite’s Ku-band beams granting high-speed connectivity for sea, air, and other purposes.
If everything goes as planned with Thursday’s scheduled flight, JCSAT-14 will be in service for at least 15 years. Powered by deployable solar arrays and batteries, the spacecraft is based on Space Systems/Loral’s SSL-1300 satellite bus.
As noted, so far this year, SpaceX has launched three missions into the black of space. The NewSpace firm got its 2016 launch manifest started with the flight of the Jason-9 spacecraft for NOAA on Jan. 17. The launch site for the Jason-9 mission was Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex-4E (SLC-4E) located in California.
SpaceX returned to SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral with the launch of the SES-9 communications satellite on March 4. The company once again launched from SLC-40 with the flight of the CRS-8 Dragon cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station under the $1.6 billion agreement that SpaceX has with NASA. On that flight, SpaceX also successfully demonstrated its ability to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 on one of the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship out in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to NASASpaceFlight, JCSAT-14 was scheduled to launch last year (2015). However, the launch was delayed pending the results of an investigation into the loss of the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket some 139 seconds into the flight. It was determined that a strut within the booster’s second stage had failed, resulting in the breakup of the rocket and loss of the spacecraft it carried.
This incident resulted in the rocket not launching for a period of less than six months (June 28, 2015, to Dec. 22, 2015). When the rocket returned to flight with 11 Orbcomm OG2 satellites, SpaceX pushed space exploration history toward a new chapter when it successfully carried out a ground landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1.
Since first taking to the skies in June of 2010, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 family of rockets has rewritten the rules and understood capabilities of launch vehicles. The company launched the 1.0 version of the vehicle five times between its first flight and its last in 2013. SpaceX then moved on to the 1.1 version of the booster with its extended fuel tanks and nine Merlin 1D engines arranged in the “Octaweb” formation in the rocket’s first stage. The first flight of the 1.1 version was with the flight of CASSIOPE in September 2013 (which also was the company’s first launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base).
The “Full Thrust” or FT version of the Falcon 9 the company currently employs is the next step in the company’s efforts to revolutionize how space travel is conducted. With the SES-9 mission earlier this year, SpaceX introduced the process of super-chilling the Falcon 9’s oxidizer (so as to be able to provide the launch vehicle with more fuel for landing attempts). It was a learning process, one that SpaceX used to make history on April 8 with the successful landing of the CRS-8 Falcon 9 first stage on the OCISLY ASDS.
To date, SpaceX has been able to launch the Falcon 9 some 23 times over the course of the last seven years—the flight of JCSAT-14 is set to take that to 24. For their part, SSL has stated that it is ready to see JCSAT-14 sent aloft.
“We are very pleased that the satellite is now at launch base and look forward to a successful launch campaign,” said John Celli, president of SSL.
Video courtesy of USLaunchReport
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.